Ross Salter, first-season huntsman at Old Dominion Hounds (VA), and I came to the hunt three seasons ago. There were a few juniors in the field on a regular basis and always a good number on Junior Day. This year, however, the number of juniors on ordinary hunting days has increased dramatically, and Junior Day was a complete surprise to everyone.
We met at Copperfield Farm, between the village of Hume and the village of Orlean. The staff walked to the top of the hill with hounds and waited for the juniors to join us. They started coming up the hill, and they just kept coming and coming. We had juniors that were nearly adults, juniors that were just old enough to ride away from their parents, and some that were being led by their parents! In total we had fifty-two juniors surrounding the hounds.
Including the juniors we had a field of one hundred and nineteen riders. In all of Old Dominion’s history I do not believe that they have seen so many juniors in one place on perfectly behaved horses and ponies. The Masters, Gus Forbush, Dr. Scott Dove, and Douglas Wise-Stuart, each assigned certain kids to each staff member and to become Field Master. Each of us staff members had two kids with us at the beginning, and we slowly brought more kids up as the day went on.
So Why All the Juniors?
After every hunting day, on the way back to the meet, Ross invites all the juniors in the field to come up and “whip-in” to him. We tell the kids exactly what to say to the hounds and they repeat it.
Even though countless germs are being passed around, Ross gives the kids his horn to blow on the way home. Some of the regular kids are getting really good at it. Of course, the hounds were very confused at first about what was going on, but they are all used to it now. They seem to know when Ross is blowing the horn and when the kids are blowing. Ross talks to the junior riders about the hounds, and his connection to them has reaped big dividends in the numbers of juniors out hunting and the fun they experience.
The Hunting Day
Hounds drew the first couple of coverts blank. This was looking like a bad start to the day. But after crossing the road, the moment Ross put them into covert, our honorary whip, Randi Blanchard, hollered a fox away out of the top corner. Hounds roared through the covert and out the top, hot on the fox’s heels. The sound of hounds roaring through a covert is a sound that you can never explain to someone. It puts chills down my back and my adrenaline begins pumping.
Hounds ran from covert to covert as quickly and as accurately as could be. After jumping coop after coop, with the horses covered in white lather, hounds checked. They searched and searched, but the fox was no where to be found. I had lost a shoe by this point so I had to go in.
Rushing back to watch more of the action, I put myself in a position where I hoped I could be helpful. Once again hounds started to roar. The first group came flying up through the field with Ross not too far behind bringing up the rest. The first group had a little check so now all of them were together. They dropped over the hill out of my sight, but the sound was right there beside me. They ran into a huge piece of woods right beside the meet, pushed the fox all the way through, then turned back around and ran him back towards me. We think he went to ground, but the hounds just couldn’t find exactly where. Nevertheless, it was a great day for adults and many, many juniors.
A Master’s Perspective
Scott Dove, MFH and honorary whipper-in adds:
“My own children grew up in the hunting field. I will be forever thankful for the efforts of their riding instructors, the USPC, the hunt staff, and the landowners that made it possible for them to have such an intimate connection with the natural world. A family that can share in the enthusiasm of a good pack of hounds that have found a good fox is a fortunate family indeed. There is no better way to learn how to ride cross country.
“The future of hunting requires open land. The future of hunting requires new riders. Both can be accomplished by educating and encouraging young riders to learn the skills required to ride safely and confidently in the hunt field and to understand environmentally sound principles. Juniors must make quick decisions while negotiating rolling, constantly variable terrain, and to make those decision with the safety of horses, hounds, and other riders in mind. The maturity required of those Juniors is substantial. The maturity developed in the hunting field will serve them well in the future. The sense of community is priceless.
“Old Dominion Hounds is very fortunate to have a professional staff, a board of directors and a Mastership that recognizes the value of having Juniors in the hunt field. We encourage Juniors to ride first flight if they and their parents feel they are qualified, and we allow Juniors to ride with the hunt staff if they so choose. Juniors are also welcome in second and third flight. When the hunting day concludes and we are headed home, juniors from all three fields are invited to ride with the huntsman, and each is allowed to blow "going home" on the horn. The notes produced are.....lovely!”
Posted December 16, 2013
Honorary whipper-in Denya Dee Leake is a college sophomore who has been hunting in the first field since age nine. She is the daughter of Caroline Treviranus Leake, two-time competitor for the U.S. in the Three-Day World Championships, and the step-granddaughter of the late Alexander Mackay-Smith.